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Why things are the way they are...,
This review is from: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Paperback)
Naomi Klein has written an essential book that examines the ideological origins, and the methods of implementation, of the ideas which have been central to the global economic transformation of the last 40 years, which is often associated with terms such as "globalization," "free trade," and "unfettered free market capitalism." It is an immense and complex subject, and whose eyes do not begin to glaze over when the subject of GATT, or WTO talks is raised, but Klein has done a most impressive job of offering the reader an erudite and lucid exposition of this transformation. She has meticulously researched the subject, and has coupled that with interviews of some key actors in the transformational events. The book is accompanied by 75 pages of footnotes, a few of which I verified for accuracy.
Klein starts her work in an unlikely place: the basement of the Allan Memorial Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It was there in the 1950's that Dr. Ewen Cameron, an American who was one time was president of the American Psychiatric Association, conducted experiments which were eventually funded by the CIA, on mentally-ill, and not so mentally-ill patients. Klein's interview with one of the survivors of Cameron's experiments was truly horrifying. Purportedly the CIA was funding such experiments "for a good cause," that is, to help captured American soldiers survive "brainwashing," which were conducted during the Korean War. In actuality, the CIA was to adopt many of the techniques that Cameron pioneered in its efforts to maintain "friendly" regimes throughout what was once called the Third World. The pictures of prisoners at Gitmo, with ear-mufflers and thick gloves, all in an effort to reduce sensory stimulus, are a direct result of Cameron's work. Electroshock therapy was also a central Cameron technique, and Klein uses an incisive epigraph from Ernest Hemingway, shortly before his suicide: "Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient." Yes, the critical point is that none of this worked, despite all the pain inflicted.
The central theme of the book is about what Klein calls "the other doctor shock." She is referring to Milton Friedman, and the school of economic thought known as the Chicago school (since Friedman taught at the University of Chicago), with its three part formula of: deregulation, privatization and cutbacks. He has been one of the stellar and most successful proponents of the now all too widely accepted "government is bad; free markets are the best of all possible worlds" thesis. And he doesn't believe in gradual transformation; it must be traumatic in order to overcome "political" obstacles, which is shorthand for the will of the vast majority of the people, who will be harmed by his policies. Klein does not particularly make this point, but I kept thinking, is not what she is describing the flip side of Communism? A rigid ideology, promoted by devoted and unquestioning acolytes who deem deviation from the "party line" heresy, requiring a revolution to obtain its objectives, and which involves much short-term immediate pain coupled with a promise of a better life in the hazy future.
Klein devotes chapter after chapter in a veritable "tour-de-force" of the implementation of the Chicago school's economic policies. Each chapter is a brilliant summation of the transformational events in a number of countries throughout the world. Friedman's first chance to implement his "clean slate" policies was Chile, when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, and imposed General Pinochet's reign of terror on the country in 1973. For the Chicago school, the implementation of its policies must be made through non-democratic means, and usually accompanied by violence; a point Klein makes again and again. As Thomas Frank says in his What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, it is the French revolution in reverse, with economic wealth becoming concentrated, the few reaping vast rewards, the vast majority losing. That objective is not accomplished democratically. Klein goes on to detail the implementation of these polices in the other countries of what she calls the "southern cone," that is, Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia. She again selects a wonderful epigraph by Eduardo Galeano: "People were in prison so that prices could be free."
In the `80's, a partial implementation of Friedman's policies occurred in both the United States and Britain, under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher's policies were so unpopular with the electorate that she was sure to lose the election, but the "foreign adventure," the last gasp of empire jingoism, the Falklands War bailed her out. The author says that next step in the global transformation occurred with: "the colonization of the World Bank and the IMF by the Chicago School was a largely unspoken process, but it became official in 1989 when John Williamson unveiled what he called `the Washington Consensus'". The policies were thereby exported to Poland, Russia, and South Africa, each receiving its own chapter. The betrayal of the stated goals of the African National Congress, and the acceptance of the previous debt by the black-majority government, was particularly heart-breaking. The standard technique is to claim that the economic policies are not political, but technically and scientifically objective. Natural disasters, such as Katrina in New Orleans, and the tsunami in Sri Lanka, are likewise viewed as `opportunities' to "shock" the populace into accepting Chicago School doctrines, such as school privatization and fancy beach resorts. Klein also covers the economic "homeland security bubble" in the States, and does a brilliant job describing how these same policies were implemented in Iraq, a country with intermittent electric and water supplies, but a 15% flat tax rate was implemented, and constitutional changes were made so that it would be hard to reverse the "free market" policies, including selling off their oil reserves. The last chapter is devoted to the increasing resistance developing to such policies. Her book was completed prior to the economic melt-down in the United States in 2008, so, no doubt, it is greater now, but the political implementation of that discontent is still held in abeyance.
Klein's book has garnered numerous 1-star reviews; I've read them all, and could find very little of merit. Mainly they were the standard attacks from true-believer acolytes of the "magic" of the markets, despite the evidence, in particular of the last two years. Klein has written a remarkable, lucid book on why we are in the fix we are: Definitely 6-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on November 15, 2010)